Georgia Republicans want to make it a crime to hand out food to voters waiting in line


Buried in a bill passed in the Georgia House this week is a provision that makes it a crime to give out refreshments to voters waiting to cast ballots.

Republicans in the Georgia House of Representatives on Monday passed an elections bill that would require ID to vote by mail and cut back on early voting on Sundays, the latter a provision voting rights advocates say is directly aimed at suppressing the vote of Black Georgians, who often organize caravans to vote after church services.

Hidden in the 66-page bill is another provision that would make it a crime to give out food and drinks to voters waiting in line to cast their ballots.

According to the text of the bill, no person is allowed to "give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector ... [within] 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place."

If it becomes law, giving out food or drinks to voters waiting in line would become a misdemeanor crime.

The GOP move to make it a crime to give out refreshments to voters in line to vote comes after Georgia voters had to wait as long as 10 hours to cast ballots in the first days of early voting in the 2020 general election.

Groups like Pizza to the Polls, a nonpartisan nonprofit launched in 2016 to help people waiting in long lines to vote, sent hundreds of pizzas to voters waiting to cast ballots in Georgia's Jan. 5 Senate runoff elections. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won those elections, putting Democrats in both of Georgia's U.S. Senate seats for the first time since 2003.

Celebrities had publicized Pizza to the Polls' efforts during the runoff elections, hoping to encourage those waiting in long lines at polling sites to stay until they'd cast ballots.

But if the bill becomes law, it could stop groups like Pizza to the Polls from helping feed people who are forced to wait in the long lines to cast a ballot that result from the state's restrictive voting laws.

Pizza to the Polls did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether it believes it could still operate in Georgia if the bill becomes law.

However, Carissa Byrne Hessick, a professor of criminal law at the University of North Carolina, said it could be a crime for someone to order snacks hand them out to fellow voters at polling places.

"The Georgia House just passed legislation that would not only make it more difficult to vote, but also makes it a crime to give food or water to anyone standing in line to vote. The idea that this should be a crime is completely outrageous," Hessick tweeted.

The Georgia bill is one of hundreds of voter suppression bills Republicans have introduced since Donald Trump's 2020 loss that would make it harder to vote, including by cutting back absentee voting and reducing the amount of time voters have to cast a ballot.

Trump and his GOP allies lied in claiming the 2020 presidential election was rife with fraud and say laws restricting access to absentee ballots, as well as more restrictive voter ID laws, are needed to prevent such fraud.

But the Georgia bill goes further, rolling back the number of early voting days — which could result in longer lines on Election Day — and then seeking to make it a crime for people to help make things easier for those forced to wait in those lines.

"Georgia Republicans passing a bill to exacerbate long voting lines while making it illegal to provide food & drinks to people in long voting lines is a special sort of diabolical," tweeted Stephen Wolf, a voting rights expert with Daily Kos Elections.

Democrats, for their part, are seeking to combat the onslaught of voter suppression laws by passing H.R. 1, a bill that would expand ballot access by requiring states to have automatic voter registration, hold early voting periods, allow any registered voter to cast a ballot by mail, and prohibit states from requiring ID to vote absentee.

If H.R. 1 becomes law, the bill passed in the Georgia House would be significantly curtailed.

"Voters in Georgia and across the country have suffered from state-sponsored voter suppression for too long," Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia state representative who runs a group that helps register voters in Georgia, tweeted on Thursday. "With tonight's passage of H.R. 1, we will be closer to ensuring our elections will be fair and free — no matter your skin color or zip code."

However, H.R. 1 faces long odds in the Senate.

Despite the fact that Democrats control the upper chamber, passage would require 10 GOP senators to vote for it.

There are unlikely to be 10 Republicans who will vote to pass H.R. 1.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.